ID-10065994No one welcomes the feeling of being stressed. We prize performance, competition and perfection and if we don’t feel competent it causes stress.

So is stress bad? The answer is yes and no. Without some level of stress, life is positively boring, but on the other hand too much stress is debilitating. Thus there should be an optimum level of stress for motivation and engagement for every one.

It turns out that this is true, but what is experienced by one person as motivating and exciting, may be experienced by someone else as overload resulting in anxiety and reduced efficiency.

This difference in the ability to tolerate and even enjoy stress is a function of several factors:

·         Your biology and how much you enjoy the buzz from sensory stimulation (think of whether you prefer vacations as an adrenaline junkie or a culture vulture).

·         Your personality and particularly how optimistic you are.

·         Your social support systems that you can call on.

·         The way you think about and interpret your experience of stress (more here).

But wait, there’s more!

Gender differences also create differences in how stress is experienced:

1.    Women may not respond with a “fight or flight” response

Almost everyone has heard that “fight or flight” is our typical stress reaction. Well, it may not be so clear cut. New research has questioned the applicability of this finding to women, pointing out that the subjects of the original research were mainly male, and “fight or flight” is a predominantly male reaction based on the secretion of testosterone in the face of stress.

The the new research found that when women are subject to stress, their  instinctive of response is often different and more typically involves activities to protect and nurture themselves and the people for whom they care about. This has been labelled “tend and befriend”. Like the male stress response based on testosterone, it also seems to have its origin in biology, with women responding by secreting endorphins which encourage social interaction and oxytocin which is a hormonal link to protecting children and family members. (more here)

2.    Fear of shame creates different types of stress for men and women

Deep down, the fear of shame is a major stressor for us all. Men and women however have different triggers of shame. The typical shame trigger for men concerns adequacy of performance, with the toxic message: “Don’t be perceived as weak”. The fear of being weak in physical strength, financial power and emotional fortitude are “hot buttons” causing stress for men.

The shame triggers for women are different. They are typically adequacy of relationships, appearance and the need to be perfect, with the toxic message: “Do it all, be perfect, and never let them see you sweat.” The resulting “hot buttons” causing stress for women are the fear of not having nurturing relationships, the need to be attractive and to cope as a superwoman.

Both men and women need to understand what triggers their fear of shame and how this ratchets up anxiety during times of stress. Then we need to be courageous in coming to terms with our vulnerabilities in ways that enable us to live authentic lives. (reference)

3.    Coffee helps women but not men stressful situations

A really surprising study (reference below) has found that the impact of several cups of coffee in stressful situations has a different impact on men and women. The finding was that after 3 cups of coffee, the caffeine undermined men’s decision-making ability and confidence. In comparison, the same amount of caffeine for women led to an improvement in performance and no impact on their confidence.

Does this explain any experiences you may have had of coffee drinking men trying to find solutions to the latest crisis at work ………?


In conclusion, there are many reasons why we all experience stress differently. Watch out for the next newsletter on for August, 2016, which will have some ideas on how to develop stress-reduction strategies that work for you.

Reference: St. Claire, L., Hayward, R., and Rogers, P. (2010). Interactive Effects of Caffeine Consumption and Stressful Circumstances on Components of Stress: Caffeine Makes Men Less, But Women More Effective as Partners Under Stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40 (12), 3106-3129 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00693.x

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

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